Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The final fiasco

I mentioned in passing that the process of getting from Istanbul to Sharjah was a bit bumpy. Here is that story, and then I'm done blogging about Turkey, I promise.

First, an overview. We walked out the door of our hotel in Göreme at 11am on Friday, August 12th. We walked in the door of our house in Sharjah at 7pm on Sunday, August 14th. That's 56 hours of travel, folks. During those 56 hours, we took almost every conceivable mode of transportation: bus, bus, train, walk, ferry, ferry, taxi, bus, plane, taxi. WOOHOO.

Everything went as planned (a bus from Göreme to Kayseri's bus station, then another bus to Kayseri's train station) until our train from Kayseri to Istanbul arrived four hours late, at 5pm on Saturday the 13th. Fortunately, our flight didn't leave until 1am on Sunday, so we still had plenty of time to get to the airport. We walked from the train station to the ferry terminal at Kadıköy (a truly heartbreaking task, since you can see one from the other but it's across a shallow bay, so you have to walk in a wide arc overland through lots of crowds and traffic). From Kadıköy, we hopped on a ferry that our Turkish friend had told us would get us closer to the airport express bus stop than where we were.

About 20 minutes into that ferry ride, we got to talking to a Turkish couple who was playing with Magdalena and found out that we were on the ferry toward the wrong airport! When the Turkish man found out we wanted Sabiha Gökçen Airport, not Atatürk, his face went ashen. Fortunately, we still had - what, six hours until the flight left? So it was no big deal. He talked the ferry operator into letting us sit on the ferry until it turned around and went back to Kadıköy, and that's what we did. We were happy to not have to pay double fare, and called it our Bosporus Cruise, on the cheap.

Finally, we were on our way in the right direction. We took a taxi to the airport express bus stop and got on. By that time, it was approaching iftar, so the bus employees handed out simple sack dinners to all the passengers. Little did I know, that would be the last food any of us ate for over 12 hours.

We got to the airport around 9pm, exhausted from almost 36 hours of traveling, and ready to be going home even as we were sad to bid farewell to Turkey. The Air Arabia check-in counter wasn't open yet, so we sat on the floor in the departures hall and craned our necks to watch the TV in an airport cafe. When it was 10 o'clock, the earliest possible check-in time, we got up to go get in line. Only there was no line - my stomach fell as I saw the information screens showing that our flight was cancelled.

We immediately sought help at the airport's information counter. The employee wanted to be helpful more than she was actually helpful. You see, when I asked her where I could talk to someone from Air Arabia, she nonchalantly said, "oh, there won't be anyone from Air Arabia here - the flight was cancelled, you know." OF COURSE. So I asked her what I was supposed to do. She said, "There's a pay phone at the PTT downstairs. You can call Air Arabia from there."

You know how in the US when your flight gets cancelled suddenly, maybe you have to stand in line for a long time, or wait three hours for another flight, but there are people there to help you and vouchers to use on food? And most of all, there is an assurance that you will reach your destination eventually, at no additional cost to yourself?

Well, we had none of that. We were in a foreign country with no way home, and the best thing the airport could offer us was a payphone in the basement. It was a one-way ticket to STRESSVILLE, considering how tired and exhausted we were even before we knew our flight had been cancelled.

Anyway, we basically barked at our kids to GO TO SLEEP, NOW. I felt bad, but it was going to take both Jeremy and me working together to figure this thing out. We couldn't spare either of ourselves for coddling our kids to sleep at that moment.

What we figured out (through half a dozen international phone calls on the pay phone downstairs) (and yes, we tried Skype on the iPhone but the connection quality wasn't good enough) was this: Air Arabia would either re-book us on the same flight, 48 hours from now, or they would refund half of the ticket. We ended up choosing the refund and then buying a one-way flight from Istanbul to Dubai on another airline. That flight left at 1pm on Sunday (12 hours after our original flight), but it was more expensive than the refunded portion of our Air Arabia flight.

Jeremy and I discussed it for a few minutes and decided that we would burn more money by staying in Turkey for 48 more hours (think transportation back to the city, hotel for two nights, food for two days, any activities/sights we would have to pay for, and then transportation back to the airport) than by paying the overage on this new one-way ticket. Plus, we were mentally done with our vacation. We had been done the moment we walked in the airport doors that night. I don't doubt that some people could have taken this situation and been all, "Woohoo, two more days in Turkey!" but our bedraggled selves with our two tired kids and not a scrap of clean clothes remaining in our luggage could not muster up the energy.

So we settled in for a night at the airport. This is not the first time we've done this, unfortunately. We started out on the floor of the airport in a dark, unlocked conference room we found. But it felt so illicit and Jeremy and I had trouble sleeping for fear of an airport employee stumbling upon us and kicking us out. So we relocated to a corner of the arrivals hall where there were sets of seats with no armrests. That became our campsite.

(Also, I just remembered that at some point while we were in the conference room, Magdalena wet herself. Sorry about that, Sabiha Gökçen Airport!!)

The flies were voracious, and whoever was awake had to be on constant fly-brushing-away duty so they didn't eat us alive. Jeremy survived periods between fitful sleep by renting and watching The Eagle on his iPhone. I listened to an entire audiobook - The Psychopath Test. Note to self: don't listen to books about psychopaths in the middle of the night in an unfamiliar airport.

Morning finally came and we headed back up to the departures area. This time, we were taking no chances. We sat down in the check-in line about an hour before it opened, and were the first to be issued boarding passes at about 11.30am. It was a more amusing wait than you'd think, since we were at the second-rate airport serving second-rate international destinations. There were flights to Grozny and Chisinau and obscure Greek cities (where Pants Lady was going, below).
No Gatwick or Heathrow here, oh no - it's Stansted, thank you very much.

Anyway, we made it through passport control and had our first food since the iftar sandwiches on the bus the night before. But before you get too excited for us, let me disclose that it was food from Arby's and Sbarro's. Still, it was hot, and it tasted better than the nothing we had.

Once we were on the plane, on our way to Dubai, things were looking up. I was worried that this fiasco would taint our memories of our trip to Turkey, but the negative faded away pretty soon after we walked in our front door. Our vacation in Turkey was everything we wanted it to be. I have to say, it was extra nice because Jeremy speaks Turkish, so he got to do all the arranging/talking/dealing/direction-asking. It's been a while since I got to take a pass on all that, so thanks, Jeremy.

Now, as for whether we'll ever fly Air Arabia again, the answer is definitely...probably. Their fares are too low and their airport is too close to boycott, sorry. But next time they cancel a flight on us, I'll be ready. With what, I have no idea. But let's hope it never comes to that.


Liz Johnson said...

Not even lying, I kind of expected Mendoza to show up at the end with some fist-shaking and cackling. Holy moly! I'm so glad you guys finally got there.

Suzanne Bubnash said...

Love them pants! (but what's the point?)

Experiences like this enrich family lore you know. Liz haha--the Palmers needed Mendoza to provide comic relief.

We arrived at PDX to find our flight overseas was canceled (this was circa 1997), setting in motion a domino-style mess-up. At least there was an agent there who let us use her phone, but super awkward calling Slovakia to rearrange rental cars, hotel, etc. Final destination was Kosice which seemed to have missed the news that communism was kaput. Well . . . this would make a good blog post for me.

Sarah Familia said...

Oh, my gosh. What a nightmare!!! Reading this gave me a small panic attack as I reflected back on painful experiences with international travel involving budget airlines/airports. You are amazingly positive! I've just re-promised to myself (yet again) that I will never fly anywhere until my children are over 18.

MoiraGallaga said...

That was quite an experience. I guess it would be better if something like this happens at the end of a trip as compared to the start of it. Commendable attitude throughout the ordeal, I wouldn't have been able to exhibit the patience that you did.

I have been reading some of your other posts, very interesting and well written.


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